Arakan Locals Call for ‘People’s Militia’

By Htet Naing Zaw 18 October 2016

Local ethnic Arakanese worried about their safety following militant attacks on security posts in Maungdaw Township have asked government officials to arm them with weapons to form a militia.

This local request was revealed at a government press conference on the situation in northern Arakan State that took place in Naypyidaw on Monday.

Deputy Defense Minister Maj-Gen Myint Nwe, however, said that the idea was not possible because the government is working towards peace in the area. “The ‘people’s militia’ strategy would be a long-term plan that needs serious consideration,” he added.

“If rural villagers want to protect their villages as a people’s militia, they should join the regional police under the Myanmar Police Force,” said the deputy minister.

Ministers and deputy ministers from the ministries of Information, of Defense, of Home Affairs, and of Labor, Immigration and Population were at the press conference.

Ministries are working together to restore regional safety as soon as possible while providing security for government departments and securing important transportation channels, said deputy minister for Home Affairs Maj-Gen Aung Soe.

The government needs short-term and long-term plans to prevent future attacks that threaten national security and the rule of law, said Information Minister U Pe Myint.

Among the government’s plans are ensuring the livelihoods of local people, monitoring displaced people’s camps, mending border fences, recapturing looted weapons, as well as wiping out insurgents and identifying their affiliations in line with existing laws, he said.

Since the attacks on Maungdaw Township border posts on Oct. 9, a total of 30 attackers have been killed and 29 others, including two transferred from Bangladesh, are being held in police custody at prisons in the state capital Sittwe and in Maungdaw town.

Five Burma Army soldiers and nine police officers have been killed, and four police officers injured, according to government figures.

The Irrawaddy questioned the military over the fatal shooting by Burma Army soldiers of three alleged militants armed with knives in a Maungdaw village on Oct. 15.

Col. Zaw Min Tun of the Office of the Commander-in-Chief defended the military operations as a response to acts that “gravely threaten” the peace and stability and the rule of law of the country.

Most of the fatal attacks on security forces are with knives, said Col. Zaw Min Tun: “security forces had to shoot—it is the only choice for the military.”

“Border guard forces were also attacked with knives. We can conclude that the attackers can skillfully use knives,” said the colonel.

With the approval of the President’s Office, the military have designated Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung townships as areas of military operations, with access restricted to aid groups and journalists.

Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs U Kyaw Zeya was quoted as saying, “we have requested cooperation through diplomatic means from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. They have received the request and said that they would assist with the [Burmese] government’s measures and cooperate.”

Information Minister U Pe Myint said that the government has met with ambassadors of three Muslim-majority Asean countries—Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei—and explained the situation. The Indonesian ambassador said that his government accepts that the actions of the Burma government is within the power of a sovereign country and that Burma government is taking actions in line with the law. The two other ambassadors shared this view.

On Monday Burma’s Minister of Home Affairs replaced the Border Guard police chief of Maungdaw Township Brig-Gen Maung Maung Khin with Brig-Gen Thura San Lwin.

The government has provided 8 million kyats (US$6,320) to the family of each police officer killed and 3 million kyats ($2,370) for each police officer and Burma Army soldier injured, according to the press conference.